Opening with a scene in which the audience finds a smartly-dressed woman, later to be known as Rose, parading round the stage confidently and simultaneously independently, it is initially difficult to discern in what direction Sussex student Oliver Gaynor‘s play, Subs, will head. The appearance of Rose’s husband, Harold, and his subsequent criticism at the rate at which she consumes alcohol, despite his equally consistent consumption, as well as his claim that the red nail varnish with which she adorns herself with makes her look like a prostitute suggests that this will be a performance centred around gender struggles. Yet, the red merely acts to infuse a bit of colour into their initial black and white lives.
The introduction of Harold presents the audience with a warring couple who cannot have both bags placed on the table at the same time, with one of them always having to be on the floor beneath it. The positioning of the objects proves important at the start as it reflects the opposite sides of the stage and the opposing views that the married couple have to hold in relation to one another within Subs.
Though the idea of binary oppositions will underpin Gaynor‘s play, and as it progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that Rose and Harold are two sides of the same coin. Their initial differences – Rose wishing to leave the house to to attend Victor’s party alongside Harold’s disinclination to do so being just one of them – creates a spectrum of choices between them that appears all too regularly in everyday life and presents many of us from seeing things in a black and white manner and the often pointlessness in doing so.
Another difference between them is shown between the pair as Rose later does the thing that she scolds Harold for doing earlier on in the play, this being calling him ‘darling’. The previous list of terms of endearment he addressed her with in a previous scene is recalled with her notable hatred at his use of ‘doll-face’. However, her reason for doing so is attributable to the assertion that just because they are husband and wife does not mean they have to share the same thoughts.
Though much attention has been paid to their being in stark contrast to one another, Subs actually depicts them as rather similar. Not only are their actions synonymous with only one of them being able to sit on a sofa designed for two at any given time being just one example but both adhere to live their lives governed by a central text of the play in which they find themselves in, the importance of which is foreshadowed by the newspaper taking the other half of the settee at the play’s opening.
In the interior setting of their house throughout, the duo question the provenance of many matters within the play, most notably themselves. Proposing that their existence is existentialist, this standpoint is quickly undermined as it transpires that neither of theirs can be as they have no concept of the external world evidenced by Rose’s desire to finally break out into it in opposition to what the script that governs their lives says – much to Harold’s horror. The fact that she does so with Harold’s reactive, contemplative suicide shows that the world does not work in opposites as both Rose and Harold leave the house together to put into dark the unrealistic and dichotomous life they shared before.
Though Gaynor shyly thanked the audience for coming after the cessation of his show, he should be confident in how thought-provoking a play he created and in the skill of actors Thomas King and Beth Shenton in delivering it.